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FOM Strange Metals Programme

Date of news: 22 November 2016

Some metals do not play by the rules: they do not follow the standard models of metallic behavior. The ‘Strange metals’ research programme, led by Nigel Hussey, director of the Nijmegen High Field Magnet Laboratory, receives €2.3 million from FOM to investigate the origin of this strange metallic behaviour.

FOM, the Dutch Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter, awarded €15.1 million to seven new research programmes that will take off shortly. The ‘Strange metals’ programme brings together a unique alliance of leading string theorists, quantum many-body theorists, and condensed matter experimentalists from Radboud University and the universities of Amsterdam, Leiden and Utrecht.

Strange metals

The physics of strange metals, which do not conform to the standard models of metallic behaviour, are amongst the most fundamental and pressing problems in modern physics. Strange metals have an electrical resistivity that grows linearly with temperature right up to their melting point. Unlike in conventional systems, however, this linear behaviour terminates not at a single (so-called quantum critical) point at zero temperature, but over an extended range of the phase diagram, implying some form of novel quantum critical phase that defines a genuinely new electronic phase.

The main objective of the Strange Metals programme is to determine whether strange metals represent a novel quantum critical phase whose theory can be described by holographic emergence principles first developed by string theorists in the context of quantum gravity. Furthermore, the scientists aim to advance this ‘holographic’ theory to the point where real materials can be modelled, and to test both existing and emerging predictions with detailed experimental investigations. Additionally, the consortium will establish the world’s first optical apparatus for measuring the optical conductivity of strange metals (and other metals) in high magnetic fields above 35 Tesla at the High Field Magnet Laboratory (HFML).

An identification of the physics behind strange metal behaviour will be an important key step in the development of a coherent theory for high temperature superconductivity, which in turn may provide key guiding principles in our quest for materials with ever higher transition temperatures.

A genuine head-start

Nigel HusseyHFML director Nigel Hussey is delighted: “The grant represents the first combined experimental and theoretical programme worldwide aimed at identifying the origin of the strange metallic behaviour linked to high temperature superconductivity. Taking our inspiration from theories originally developed for quantum gravity, the timeliness of our novel programme gives us a genuine head-start on the global competition in this field, one we expect to capitalize on in the coming five years.”

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Nigel Hussey